Summary: Compares the church to the Body of Christ
THE CHURCH - THE BODY OF CHRIST
SEPTEMBER 21, 2008
One of the most vivid word pictures of the New Testament is the Apostle Paul’s description of the Church as the Body of Christ. The human body is something everyone is familiar with. And it plays such an important role in our experience of the world and our perception of life and reality. Even though the illustration of the church as a body is familiar to us, our minds can hardly comprehend all the implications of Paul’s figure of speech. What should we understand the apostle to mean when he calls the Church the Body of Christ?
The comparison of the body with human society was a common strategy used in speeches, by orators in Paul’s time. It was used to maintain the social hierarchy of the Roman Empire. It kept the lower classes of society from rebelling against upper classes. One class is the head. The other class is the foot. And you better know where you belong – or else!
The apostle turned this well known concept - to Kingdom purposes, by describing the Church as the Body of Christ. But 1 Corinthians 12 is clear that Paul is not trying to maintain a social class structure in the Church. On the contrary, the Church as the Body of Christ, emphasizes respecting and celebrating differences within the Church - while at the same time maintaining commitment to the unity of the Church.
We sometimes have a hard time balancing emphasis on the Church as a whole - and emphasis on the individual members of the Church. When we value one, we often end up devaluing the other. As Paul describes the Church as the Body of Christ, both the individual members and the Church as a unified whole, matter. I want you to notice, first:
I. THE BODY OF CHRIST HAS DIVERSE MEMBERS.
The Church is characterized by diversity of members. Verse 14 declares, “The body is not made up of one part but of many.” In verses 15-16 Paul points out that a foot does not have to be a hand to be part of the body, nor does an ear have to be an eye to belong to the body. He points out that diversity is a good thing. All the parts of a body are necessary for it to function properly.
The analogy for a local church is clear. A diversity of ministries is necessary for it to function properly. We have many needs and we need many different kinds of talents for the church to work correctly. There are preachers and teachers, pastoral caregivers, leaders, and those gifted in evangelism or compassionate ministries. A church consisting only of a bunch of people who preach, would be a pretty sick church. A church made up only of leaders, would be hopelessly paralyzed by the lack of followers. If all the church provided was compassionate ministry, where would the prophetic voice from God be heard?
The issue is not just limited to ministry roles. A diversity of personalities or dispositions is also necessary in a local church. Yes, we may have personality clashes and different perspectives. But the church cannot be healthy with only extroverts or highly creative individuals. It also needs introverts and people who find joy in creating programs that enable groups of people to learn, develop spiritually, and cooperate in service. God has gifted different people with differing perspectives on life and uses all these perspectives to enrich the life of the church together.
The diversity of the Church also speaks to the important vision of the Church of the Nazarene to be a global church. Out of one, we have become many. God does not desire a Church consisting only of Asians or Americans or Africans. A diversity of cultures, languages, races, and nationalities enables the Church to fulfill its global mission to win the world to Christ. Without this diversity the Church cannot be the Body of Christ. We must have members with different gifts, different roles, different personalities, and different cultures for the Body to be healthy. We need to all agree that it is okay to be different. In fact, we need to understand that is desirable for us to be different. Also understand:
II. THE BODY OF CHRIST IS ONE BODY.
Though Paul clearly wanted the church at Corinth to know there was room for their diversity, he was equally clear that the Church is one. In verse 12 he states, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.” The unity of the Church has several sources. Ephesians 4:4-6 notes that as one Body the Church has one Spirit, one Lord, one God, one baptism, one faith, and one hope. We could add to the list one Bible, one Lord’s Supper, and one Great Commission.